Bionic suit for elderly to be built by Irish researchers

Exoskeletons will aid older adults in carrying out daily tasks, and participating in activities

Sean Hayes managing director of MTD Precision Engineering  and Dr Leonard O’Sullivan, senior lecturer  of ergonomics and human factors at the University of Limerick.

Sean Hayes managing director of MTD Precision Engineering and Dr Leonard O’Sullivan, senior lecturer of ergonomics and human factors at the University of Limerick.

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Researchers at the University of Limerick have been awarded €250,000 in funding to develop assistive exoskeletons for older adults.

The researchers are aiming to develop lower-body, upper-body and full-body exoskeletons which will support older adults in carrying out daily tasks, and participating in occupational and social activities.

The research will be carried out as part of the Axo-Suit project, which will run for three years with a total budget of almost €3 million. The Axo-Suit project brings together three universities and five companies , and is co-ordinated by Aalborg University in Denmark.

UL will partner with Cork based company MTD Precision Engineering in the design and manufacture of the concept. The combined project value to the Irish partners is €650,000.

UL lecturer Dr Leonard O’Sullivan, who is leading the research, said a big movement is occurring across Europe to develop assistive technology for the aging population, to help them to live independently and stay mobile.

“We want to help older people to retain the ability to stay active and do daily tasks such as going for a walk, watering plants, or putting clothes on the line.”

“It needs to be light enough to allow them to be mobile, but strong enough to help them,” he added.

He said the teams hoped to have a commercial saleable product at the end of the project, at which stage assistive exoskeletons could be on the market for between €5,000 and €10,000.

While it might sound expensive, Dr O’Sullivan said the exoskeleton could keep people at home, and out of nursing homes.

According to the World Health Organisation, the proportion of the world’s population aged over 60 years will double by 2050, from about 11 per cent to 22 per cent. As such, there is great demand for solutions which help individuals to maintain functional capacity and activity levels as they age.

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